Johnny Mad Dog


A Los Angeles Times Book Review Favorite Book of the Year

Johnny Mad Dog, age sixteen, is a member of a rebel faction bent on seizing control of war-torn Congo. Laokolé, at the same age, simply wants to finish high school. Together, they narrate a crossing of paths that has explosive results. Set amid the chaos of West Africa's civil wars, and acclaimed by such writers as Philip Roth and Chinua Achebe, Emmanuel Dongala's powerful, exuberant, ...

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Johnny Mad Dog: A Novel

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A Los Angeles Times Book Review Favorite Book of the Year

Johnny Mad Dog, age sixteen, is a member of a rebel faction bent on seizing control of war-torn Congo. Laokolé, at the same age, simply wants to finish high school. Together, they narrate a crossing of paths that has explosive results. Set amid the chaos of West Africa's civil wars, and acclaimed by such writers as Philip Roth and Chinua Achebe, Emmanuel Dongala's powerful, exuberant, and terrifying new work is a coming-of-age story like no other.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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While West Africa burns under the onslaught of warring rebel factions, two teenagers, their stories forming twin narratives, struggle to survive in very different ways. Johnny Mad Dog, as he calls himself, is 16 and as familiar with his Kalashnikov as he is with the more typically boyish pursuits of girls, music, and partying. Determined to seize power from the existing government, he and his fellow soldiers leave behind a trail of murder, rape, and looting. In dramatic counterpoint, 16-old Laokolé, bookish and thoughtful, dreams of becoming an engineer and constructing buildings as high as the tallest trees. After her father is murdered and her mother is left crippled during a raid, Laokolé is forced to flee as Johnny Mad Dog and his Death Dealers invade their village. Separated from her family, with nothing but memories of violence too gruesome to recall, she must find the courage and hope to go on living.

A novel of palpable power and sharp effect, Johnny Mad Dog is a very different coming-of-age story -- one set against the backdrop of terrifying times and told through the unforgettable voices of two teenagers who witnessed it. Dongala has held a mirror to our world, and the result is a novel of penetrating insight and heartbreaking resonance. (Fall 2005 Selection)
From the Publisher
"Terrifying . . . Emmanuel Dongala grabs us from the start with a language that is rude and raw (Mad Dog's) and lyrical (Laokolé's). . . . He continues to vividly re-create his burning piece of earth."—The New York Times Book Review

"The manner in which Dongala juxtaposes these two characters' experiences explains more about these wars than most news stories ever could . . . Dongala's fast-paced, irreverent style makes the novel a memorable, thoroughly enjoyable read."—The Boston Globe

"Not only does [Dongala] show the terror, he shows the absurdity, the banality, even the cruel humor, [and] takes swipes at Western relief workers, UN troops, the international media, and 'political experts' who continue to recycle the same story from Africa's war zones."—Anderson Tepper, The Washington Post Book World

"Stark, blackly comic . . . In Laokolé and Mad Dog, Emmanuel Dongala gives us two equally extraordinary portraits of [his characters' brains]."—Associated Press

Publishers Weekly
Two teenagers are caught up in the melee as rival ethnic factions turn their Congolese city into a bloody battleground in this harrowing novel by Dongala (Little Boys Come from the Stars, etc.). LaokolE, a bright girl of 16 who dreams of one day becoming an engineer, flees home ahead of the marauding militias. With her younger brother and legless mother (whom she pushes in a wheelbarrow), she struggles not only to stay alive but to sustain her hopes for the future. Alternate chapters give readers the boastful voice of 15-year-old Johnny Mad Dog, a member of the Death Dealers militia, as he patrols the city with his Uzi, looting, raping and killing, eager to prove himself a man. Dongala, a native of the Congo Republic (formerly French Congo), offers an unflinching look at the greed and ignorance that drives fighters like Mad Dog, as well as the fear, desperation and anger of those trapped in the cross fire. Despite occasional wooden dialogue and the rather stagey showdown between the two narrators, Dongala frames some powerful questions: namely, how humans can be so cruel, and conversely, how do they maintain their humanity in the face of unremitting ugliness? As Mad Dog himself half-marvels, half-laments, even if we looted them a thousand times, they would always manage to hang onto something. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The native Congolese author, now Massachusetts-based, writes of civil war and its attendant atrocities. Unlike Dongala's subtly woven The Fire of Origins (2002) and Little Boys Come from the Stars (2001), his latest offers a simplistic contrast of innocence with rampant amorality. It's set in an unnamed West African nation where forces representing the Mayi-Dogo and Dogo-Mayi tribes struggle to annihilate one another, aided by mercenaries from various countries, though the fighting is entrusted largely to laxly trained "militias" whose main "political" objectives are rape and looting. One such force, the Mata-Matas (aka "Roaring Tigers"), flounders under the leadership of strutting thug General Giap, who has inexplicably delegated major responsibilities to the eponymous Johnny, a teenaged brute who assumes several resonant noms de guerre before settling on "Mad Dog," and who narrates his murderous misadventures in vainglorious accents, all the while assuring us that he's an unparalleled intellectual, heroic freedom fighter and sexual athlete. Mad Dog's narrative is juxtaposed with that of Laokole, a valiant 16-year-old refugee who flees the carnage with her multiple amputee "Mama" and younger brother Fofo. She (a would-be engineer) is the "intellectual" that Johnny claims to be-and it becomes apparent that Dongala is setting the two on a collision course, as Laokole finds temporary sanctuary in a U.N. embassy building, loses all her loved ones and finally reaches an embattled village, where (in a painfully unconvincing climactic scene) she and Mad Dog face off, lethal violence ensues and, as their country smolders, the stars overhead wheel silently and indifferently in their courses. Onerespects this earnest tale's passion and indignation, but little else. Johnny is a posturing monster, Laokole a stoical saint, and every action and thought of each is reduced to melodramatic cliche. The result is an all-too-credible horror story, but not a good novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312425302
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 5/16/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 704,193
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Emmanuel Dongala was a resident from birth of Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic (formerly French Congo), until he left the country in 1997 during its civil war. He teaches at Simon's Rock College of Bard and lives in western Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


General Giap proclaimed a period of looting that was to last forty-eight hours.

Instantly I switched off the radio. I took the hurricane lamp and ran toward our little storage shed, to make sure the wheelbarrow was there and in working order. Yes, it was there, lying upside down. I spun its single wheel. The wheel turned smoothly but squeaked a little. I went to the kitchen to find the bit of palm oil we had left. I oiled the wheel and tested it again. It didn’t squeak anymore. Despite the rust that had begun to corrode the body, the barrow was in good repair and both of its handles were steady.

I returned to the house. I raised the pagne that served as a curtain between my room and Mama’s. She was still asleep. Wake her, or let her sleep awhile longer? I hesitated briefly, then decided to wake her only at the last minute. She’d had a very difficult night, unable to fall asleep until three a.m., when the two water-soluble aspirin I’d forced her to take had dulled the pain of her injured legs and allowed her to get some rest. I would leave her in peace for another half hour. I lowered the pagne and went over to Fofo, my little brother, who shared the room with me. He was still snoring, sprawled comfortably on his foam mattress, which lay on the floor next to my bed. I shook him roughly. He was almost twelve now, no longer a small child, old enough to help the family.

He awoke with a start. I told him that another round of looting would begin in a few hours and that we had to hurry—we mustn’t be taken by surprise, the way we had been last time. Panic in his eyes, he began to cry, his whole body trembling. He was terrified, I knew, because he was dreading a repeat of the day when members of the first militias—the men who, back then, were fighting against the troops gearing up for the looting today—had killed Papa right in front of him. It would be a disaster if he had another of his breakdowns now. So I had to shake him, had to impress on him the urgency of the situation in order to prevent him from dwelling on its gravity.

Raising my right hand in a threatening way, I told him to run and fetch two shovels from the shed where the wheelbarrow was stored, then wait for me behind the house. He understood right away that I wasn’t joking; he calmed down and went out into the darkness. I was afraid I’d woken Mama by speaking so loudly to Fofo. I raised the pagne once more; she lay undisturbed. It had been a long time since I’d seen such tranquillity in her face. She was sleeping so peacefully!

I followed Fofo outside. He was already waiting for me in our little garden behind the house. He had only one shovel with him; the handle of the other, he said, was broken. I told him to go fetch a hoe instead. When he came back, I handed him the shovel and took the hoe. I marked out a rectangle on the ground and we began to dig a large hole by the light of the moon. Since it was garden soil—lucky for us—it was easily worked. Imagine if we’d had to dig in sand or packed ground! After ten minutes or so, the hole was deep enough.

I looked at Fofo. He was sweating profusely. Poor child! I’d gotten him up at five in the morning, threatened him, made him work like a dog, and he hadn’t even had breakfast yet. A twelve-year-old doesn’t deserve that. I told him to go wash up and then have something to eat. “Remember to brush your teeth and comb your hair. And be quick about it! Don’t dawdle, or I’ll come looking for you.” He went without a word. How I wished I had a treat to give him, if only a piece of chocolate!

I picked up the shovel Fofo had been using and moved the heaped-up soil farther from the edge of the hole, so it wouldn’t fall back in. Now I had to attend to Mama.

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